Media, teenage pregnancy and violence

Nov, 3. Reuters headline: “Study links teen pregnancy to sexy TV shows”. Oh, the debate continues, a reader may think. Is television a bad influence on young people? The question has been asked by researchers across the globe for decades, and no conclusive evidence has yet been found. In 2004, a study of the studies (by James A. Anderson) analysed the research papers in a large archive of major studies on correlations between media violence and aggression. Findings:

The analysis found the archive marked by initiatives in governmental funding and private philanthropy, shifting disciplinary interests, cycles of editorial attention, and the economies of disciplinary authentication and professional legitimation.

Analysis of the mainline arguments indicated a shift from an audience-activated effect to one in which the individual is an unwitting accomplice.

Finally, the study showed that the continuing interest in media serves to deflect attention from much more serious (but much more costly to remedy) sources of aggression and to elevate the role of media to that same level of importance.

Yet the Reuters story on the findings of the study announced on Monday begins:

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Exposure to some forms of entertainment is a corrupting influence on children, leading teens who watch sexy programs into early pregnancies and children who play violent video games to adopt aggressive behavior, researchers said on Monday.

It doesn’t seem too far fetched to argue that ‘corrupting influence’ seems to imply some kind of causality. As does ‘leading … into/to’. The article continues:

Researchers at the RAND research organization said their three-year study was the first to link viewing of racy television programing with risky sexual behavior by teens.

The article shifts key here. ‘Corrupting influence’/’leading to’ has shifted to ‘link’. ((And, is this the RAND which describes itself as ‘a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis’, and has also been described as ‘the ur-think tank, the Cold War granddaddy of them all’?)). The article continues:

“Our findings suggest that television may play a significant role in the high rates of teenage pregnancy in the United States,” said Anita Chandra, a behavioral scientist who led the research at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.

“We’re not saying we’re establishing causation, but we are saying this is one factor that we were able to prospectively link to the teen pregnancy outcome,” Chandra said in a phone interview.

Two more shifts. The ‘link’ has been hedged with a ‘may’. And the leading researcher explicitly distances herself from establishing a causal relation between TV and teen pregnancies.

Nevertheless, the RAND Corporation research brief offers guidelines for TV industry leaders (think about sex in the programming), media literacy instruction (teach critical literacy), doctors (teach about media effects) and parents (monitor teens’ TV viewing and talk to their kids about the consequences of sex).

Novel recommendations there.


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